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Composer Jon Hassell dies at the age of 84.

The influential American avant-garde composer Jon Hassell passed away on 26 June, his family confirmed in a statement on Facebook on Saturday night. His friend and collaborator Brian Eno had launched a GoFundMe in April 2020 to raise money for Hassell’s “long-term health issues”. “After just over a year of battling health complications, Jon passed away peacefully early this morning of natural causes,” his family wrote in the statement. “He cherished life and leaving this world was a struggle, as he longed to share so much more in music, philosophy and writing.” He was 84.

Born in Memphis in 1937, Hassell studied at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester before moving to Europe to study with Karlheinz Stockhausen (his classmates included Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay, who later formed the krautrock band Can). On his return to the United States, Hassell accepted a fellowship at the SUNY (State University of New York) Center for the Creative and Performing Arts in Buffalo, where he met the American minimalist composer Terry Riley.

In 1968 Hassell participated in the first recording of Riley’s influential work In C. Later he also worked with La Monte Young, joining the drone group Theatre of Eternal Music, and studied with their common mentor, the Indian music singer Pandit Pran Nath, from whom Hassell learned to use the techniques of the kirana gharana vocal tradition on the trumpet.

Hassell’s first album, Vernal Equinox, released in 1978, is considered the first work of what he would later call “Fourth World” musical aesthetics. Hassell defined it as “a unified primitive/futuristic sound that combines the characteristics of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques”; a combination of first world and third world that he also described as “meta-classical and meta-pop”.

Vernal Equinox attracted the attention of Brian Eno, with whom Hassell would collaborate on Fourth WorldVol. 1 – Possible Musics in 1980. In addition to subsequent collaborations with artists such as David Sylvian, Peter Gabriel and Tears for Fears, for much of that decade Hassell continued to develop the “Fourth World” concept, which has proved profoundly influential in many musical genres. In some ways, his work presaged the globalisation of music that has accelerated in the internet age.

As he told Andy Beta for Resident Advisor, Hassell was both “very encouraged” and cautious about artists’ continued exploration of Fourth World music. “Now we’re in digital la-la-land, taking a millisecond or a few milliseconds of something that’s in the digital domain, and making it into something else… there is no original anymore. You’ve got a copy of a copy of copy of a copy”.

With the arrival of the 21st century, Hassell would also record with artists such as kd Lang, Ani DiFranco and Imogen Heap’s Frou Frou project. His latest studio album See Through Sound (Pentimento Volume Two) was released in 2020.

© Photograph by Roman Koval downloaded from Jon Hassell’s website.